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Home > Archangel's Kiss (Guild Hunter #2)(9)

Archangel's Kiss (Guild Hunter #2)(9)
Author: Nalini Singh

Old wounds.

Yes, Raphael thought, breathing in the scent of his hunter, the wildness barely contained beneath her skin. He'd wondered what Elena would do to a race of immortals - this mortal who'd made him a little bit human even as she became immortal. But he'd never stopped to wonder what she'd do to him.

"My father," he said, surprising himself with the words, "died a long time ago."

Flames everywhere, his father's scream of rage, his mother's tears. Salt on his lips. His own tears. He'd watched his mother kill his father and he'd cried. He'd been a boy, a true child, even among angelkind.

"I'm sorry."

"It was an eternity ago." And it was only in those rare moments when his shields fell that he remembered. Today, Elena had caught him unawares. His mind had flooded with the last images he had, not of his father but of his mother, her delicate feet walking lightly over grass stained with her own son's life-blood. She'd been so beautiful, so gifted that angels had fought and died for her. Even at the end, as she crooned over Raphael's fallen, broken body, her beauty had outshone the sun itself.

"Shh, my darling. Shh."

"Raphael?"

Two feminine voices, one pulling him into the past, the other into the present.

If there had been a choice, he'd made it a year ago in the skies above New York, as the city lay in ruins around him. Now, he pressed his lips to the curve of Elena's shoulder and soaked in her warmth, warmth that was distinctly mortal, melting the ice of memory.

"You've been in this water long enough I think."

"I don't ever want to move."

"I'll fly you back."

Her protest was weak as he lifted her out of the water, her body still so breakable.

"Don't move, hunter." Drying her wings with care, he pulled on his pants, then watched her dress, his heart overflowing with a mix of possession, satisfaction, and a terror unlike any he'd ever known before. If Elena fell from the sky, if she was thrown onto the unyielding earth, she wouldn't survive. She was too young, an immortal just born.

When she came into his embrace, her arms going around his neck, her lips pressing to his pectorals, he shuddered and, closing his own arms around her, rose into the orange red glow of a sky skillfully painted by the rays of the slowly setting sun. Instead of going high, above the cloud layer, he stayed low, mindful that she felt the cold. If he'd known what they'd find, he'd have made a far different choice, but as it was, Elena saw the nightmare first.

"Raphael! Stop!"

He halted at the urgency in her tone, hovering just over the border that delineated where his territory ended and Elijah's began. Even in the Refuge, there were lines - unmarked, unspoken, but existent all the same. One power could not stand too close to another. Not without destruction of a magnitude that would savage their kind. "What is it?"

"Look."

Following the line of her arm, he saw a body colored in a hundred shades of copper by the sun. It lay in a small, silent square on his side of the border. His vision was acute, better than a raptor's, yet he could see no movement, nothing that spoke of life. But he did see what had been done to the male. Fury ignited.

"Take me down, Raphael." Distracted words, her eyes on the body that had curved in on itself as if in a desperate attempt to lessen the brutality of its injuries. "Even if there isn't a vampiric trail to follow, I know how to track."

He stayed in place. "You're still recovering."

Her head snapped up, those silver eyes liquid mercury. "Don't you dare stop me from being what I am. Don't you dare." There was something very old in those words, in that anger, as if it had aged within her.

He'd taken her mind twice since she'd woken, both times to protect her from hurting herself. Today, those same primal drives urged him to disregard her orders - she might've been hunter-born, but she wasn't yet anywhere near strong enough to handle this.

"I know what you're thinking," Elena said, taut pain in every word, "but if you take my mind, if you force me to go against my instincts, I'll never forgive you."

"I won't watch you die again, Elena." The Cadre had chosen her because she was the best, relentless in her pursuit of her prey. But then, she'd been disposable. Now, she was integral to his existence.

"For eighteen years" - somber words, a haunted expression - "I tried to be what my father wanted. I tried not to be hunter-born. It killed me a little more each day."

He knew what he was. He knew what he was capable of. He also knew that if he broke her, he'd despise himself for all eternity. "You'll do exactly as I say."

An immediate nod. "This is unfamiliar territory - I'm not going to go off half-cocked."

Descending in a gentle dive, he came to an easy landing a few feet from the body - in the shadow of a dual-level home that bore the soft patina of age. Elena held onto him for a couple of seconds, as if getting her muscles under control before turning to kneel beside the badly beaten vampire. He crouched beside her, reaching out to place his fingers on the vampire's temple. A pulse wasn't always a good indicator of life when it came to the Made.

It took him several seconds to sense the dull echo of the vampire's mind, a sign of how close the male was to true death. "He lives."

Elena blew out a breath. "Dear God, someone really wanted to hurt him." The vampire had been beaten so severely he was nothing much more than ground meat over bone. He might've been handsome, probably had been from the sense of age pressing against Elena's skin, but there wasn't enough left of his face to tell.

One eye was swollen shut. The other . . . the eye socket had been shattered with such vicious thoroughness that if you didn't know he was meant to have an eye there, you'd never guess where his cheek ended and his eye began. Oddly, his lips had been left untouched. Below the neck, his clothing was driven into his flesh, evidence of a sustained and repeated kicking. And his bones . . . they stuck out - bloody, broken branches through what had once been a pair of jeans.

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